MALIBU, CALIF.: A clock, a cross, a Ferris wheel, a horoscope, a torture rack—all these associations, and a few more besides, are handily evoked by the five-ton steel wheel that anchors the Center for New Performance’s production of the Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound, at Getty Villa, Aug. 29–Sept. 28. Ron Cephas Jones plays the grounded god, lashed to an inner wheel that rotates more or less freely within the overarching wheel structure.
“I felt an obligation to bring a kind of weight and excitement to the project,” said director Travis Preston, who heads CNP, the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts (where Preston is also dean of the theatre school). “The wheel was my response to the challenge of Prometheus being bound throughout; because of the smaller inner wheel, he’s still bound but can move. It gave us the ability to create some dynamism.”
The structure, assembled by LA ProPoint, also allows the play’s 12-member chorus to participate acrobatically in the action, in harnesses provided by Flying by Foy.
“Seen from the front, the wheel is almost like a vortex going back in space,” said Preston. And back in time. “As someone who is immortal, Prometheus’s being bound ties him to time.” Preston cited Prague Orloj, the medieval astronomical clock in the Czech capital’s town square, as a model for the wheel’s design. And he feels that the work’s “proto-Christian” aspects—the image of crucifixion and sacrifice—emerge starkly in this setting.
The outdoor amphitheatre, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, has the classical-styled Getty Villa as its backdrop, along with the verdant hills of Malibu. But this is not an idyll; Preston feels that classics, including this one, have a prophetic power that remains unsettling.
“The interesting thing about the piece—and this is how I generally feel about the Greeks and Shakespeare—is that when you engage these plays, they are reenergized, and they give you access to exciting aspects of, and insights about, modernity.”
Prometheus’s crime—sharing the secret of fire with humans—links him, Preston feels, “to the origins of human consciousness. In a sense, he is the creator of humanity; it’s essential to the evolution of humanity in modern and postmodern history, this transgressing on the territory of the divine that both condemns and defines us.”
When it comes to tragic transgression, humanity is always on a roll.